Commissions of Inquiry Alive!

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… As APC fails to secure 2/3 majority

October 23, 2018

By Patrick Jaiah Kamara & Jariatu S. Bangura

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Vote counting: Clerk of Parliament Umar Paran Tarawally presided over the votes, close observed by party representatives
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The Sierra Leone Parliament

As lawmakers yesterday engaged in almost twelve hours of animated debate, opposition lawmakers of the All Peoples Congress (APC) failed in their spirited bid to secure the two-thirds majority votes required to stop the three constitutional instruments from passing in law.

Sierra Leone’s unicameral parliament has 146 members, but five of them were on official assignment, with 141 present to vote in the most crucial election since the election of the current Speaker.

The APC needed 94 votes to garner the two-thirds majority required by the country’s 1991 constitution to thwart the passage of the three instruments, but could only garner 72 votes after a secret ballot of members present. Those in favour of the setting up of the commissions of inquiry, notably ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), got 60 votes, while two votes were declared void.

After the result of the historic secret voting was announced, Speaker Dr Abass Chernor Bundu declared that the three constitutional instruments would mature today to become law.

“In accordance with the provision of 170(7) paragraph C, I hereby declare the motion not past. Therefore, the three instruments will continue to mature at midnight tonight and tomorrow morning [Tuesday] will order the Clerk of the House to issue the necessary certificate for the setting up of the commissions of inquiry. What we have shown today is that our democracy is taking a deeper root,” he said.

The outcome of the votes prompted raucous celebrations from the two sides, with the APC lawmakers chanting their party song ‘there is victory for us’, while their SLPP counterparts praised President Julius Maada Bio.

The debate, which attracted many opposition chieftains to parliament, including the defeated APC flag-bearer Dr Samura Kamara, generated intense war-of-words between rival lawmakers.

Hon. Daniel B. Koroma had moved a motion for a debate on the three constitutional instruments laid before the House on Thursday, 2nd August, and Tuesday, 2nd October 2018, claiming that the instruments contain unconstitutional provisions and that they were not in the public interest, and therefore should be annulled.

The opposition APC lawmaker said the terms of reference of the constitutional instruments were ambiguous. “In law there should be certainty. Laws must not be unpredictable, laws must be certain. But by this phraseology ‘from time to time’ means that the commission could even call upon people in 2023 with the view of silencing the opposition,” he said.

Hon. Koroma noted that there was no rule before the House to guide the envisaged commissions based on procedures, transparency, fairness and inclusion

Hon. Chernor Maju Bah, Leader of the main opposition APC, reiterated that they were not against the commissions of inquiry, but averse to its content.

He said they also have issues with the fact that foreign judges would lead the inquiry, adding that the latter would be less sensitive, compared to Sierra Leonean judges who have families in the country.

In addition, Hon Alpha Amadu Bah and Hon. Abdul Kargbo, both from the APC, noted that the debate could make or break the country’s fragile democracy as those they called ‘victims’ could lose their properties and face adverse punishment.

They averred that key players who are now in the current government were not mentioned in the Governance Transition Team (GTT) which recommended the formation of commissions of Inquiry.

However, according to Hon. Dixon Rogers of the SLPP, the inquiry seeks to uphold accountability, transparency and the rule of law for the misappropriation of Ebola funds, bad procurement procedures, allegedly by the past regime of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Hon. Veronica K. Sesay, one of five female lawmakers representing the ruling SLPP, said the creation of the commissions of inquiry would serve as deterrent to those in governance now as they also would be called upon someday to give account of their stewardship.

She said the previous parliament had cautioned that all gifts received on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone must be brought on the table of the House, but that was never done.

Another SLPP lawmaker, Hon Hindolo Moiwo Gevao argued that the constitutional instrument was not unconstitutional as apposition lawmakers had mooted before the start of the debate, and that there was no need for the commission to be time bound or for rules of engagement to be identified from the outset because they were yet to be set up.

“There is nothing to show that the instruments were unconstitutional before the House. There is no need as well to give a time bound for the existence of the commissions or even rules of engagement as the commission is yet to be formed. Once it is formed, all that is needed will be provided for as time goes by,” he said.

According Hon. Katherine Zainab Tarawally of the APC, lawmakers should make laws that are neither biased nor self-centred. She noted that the instruments were not worth of what is expected of them as they were bereft clarity as to whether vault controllers of ministries would be investigated, thus urging that the documents be rejected.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Coalition for Change, Hon. Saa Emmerson Lamina said his constituents were overwhelmed when they heard that an inquiry would be established.

He called on the government to ensure that foreign support be secured for the commissions so that thorough inquiry would be carried out, and that Permanent Secretaries of ministries should be included as they are key players in any ministry.

He questioned the intent of the mover and seconder of the motion for the annulment, noting that they have not considered the blatant rate at which the Financial Management Policy, Bank of Sierra Leone Act, the Le17 trillion domestic debt, Auditor-Generals report that raised serious questions about financial probity by members of the former administration.

He said the past government flouted many human rights laws, citing the sacking of the democratically-elected Vice President, Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana.

Leader of the main opposition APC, Hon. Chernoh Maju Bah said there was no heroism in ignorance as they were not against the establishment of the commissions, but questioned the manner in which the instruments were drafted.

“We owe the people of this country an explanation. It is necessary that specific rules of engagement be established. I call on the C4C, Independent Members of Parliament, Paramount Chiefs to see reasons to vote against the instruments,” he said.

However, Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis said that for the past two and half months the APC have been rehearsing for the debate but yet they could not proffer any substantive reasons for the instruments to be annulled.

He said foreign judges have only been earmarked to serve as sole commissioners, adding that the commissions would not serve as courts of law and thus would not be bound by the rules of evidence, thus allying the fears of the opposition that the inquiries would fair and transparent.

Immediately he assumed power in April, President Julius Maada Bio set up a Governance Transition Team (GTT) to take stock of his predecessor’s stewardship. The report of 20-man committee recommended, among a raft of recommendations, the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry.

It could be recalled that Constitutional Instrument No. 64and 65 were laid in Parliament on 2nd August 2018, while a third one, No.67, was tabled on 2nd October.

The Instruments, even if not debated yesterday, would have become law today because it had taken 21 days since they were first laid in the House.